So reformed humor writer Dan Greenburg (How to Be a Jewish Mother) says he’s going to start writing ”thrillers” again. Says he’s sorry he abandoned the genre after the publication of his book Love Kills in 1978 (”a half-million-copy best-seller,” he boasts; no wonder he wants to get back to them). Says the world has gotten grimmer, and it’s harder to be funny. He’s been saying this to anyone who’ll listen, creating a drumbeat of publicity for his new thriller, Exes, even before the book was published. Well, why not?

Here’s why not: The evidence at hand — the actual book — strongly suggests that reformed humor writer Dan Greenburg doesn’t have a clue about thrillers. The plot, such as it is, follows a gorgeous (of course) woman who systematically kills every man she’s ever slept with. After seducing each of them one last time, she stabs him in the neck right after he reaches orgasm. Why do they deserve this fate? Because they all have the most dreaded of male afflictions: fear of commitment. Seriously. In the other major plot twist, our beauty wangles a magazine assignment to write about the murders, so she can sidle up to the detective assigned to the case. Do I need to tell where they wind up? He, naturally, is the gruff yet sensitive type, who alternately swears (that’s his gruff side, see) and kisses his young son on the lips (thus showing his Mr. Sensitivity side). Plus he’s got a lot of keen insights into the human condition, like when his best buddy is talking about his sexual plans for his new girlfriend and our hero blurts out, ”This is women’s worst fantasy of how we talk about them.” Sigh.

Exes, to be plain, is about as thrilling as a public television fund drive. No, I take that back; fund drives have at least some suspense. The pacing, the plotting, the dialogue — all of it is stunningly amateurish, especially given that Greenburg is a writer of some stature. Perhaps the moral here is that thrillers are harder to write than they look. Then again, perhaps it’s simply that in the modern age, enough publicity will hide a multiplicity of sins. F

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